I-The Cut: Good Bye Lenin!
Wolfgang Becker’s 2003 Good Bye Lenin!, also known as 79 qm DDR, in simple is a movie about a boy saying good bye to his mother. Let us now complicate matters!
Good Bye Lenin stars Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon, Florian Lukas, Alexander Beyer, Burghart Klaußner, Michael Gwisdek Klapprath, Christine Schorn, Jürgen Holtz, Stefan Walz and Daniel Brühl as Alexander ‘Alex’ Kerner.
Alex is the protagonist of this brilliant cinematic ode of love to a mother and a country. Reels of real events with fictitious storylines built around them, co-written by Bernd Lichtenberg and Becker, are shown to us.
Good Bye Lenin is the German version of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso but on a different level. It is a passionate movie that summarizes that magic and purpose of cinema.
The tagline says it all: The German Democratic Republic lives on…in 79 square meters!
When Alex is mistakenly arrested in 1989 East Germany during a peaceful demonstration, his mother, Christiane (Katrin Saß), who happens to stand across the street, collapses after suffering a heart attack and goes into a long coma.
A few months later, and as the world moves on, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) era comes to an end. Both sides, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the GDR, are united and a new Germany is born; a Germany that Alex believes will be too much for his mother to handle.
“You must protect her from any kind of excitement. And I do mean any kind, Mr. Kerner,” Dr. Wagner tells an anxious Alexander. “Any kind of excitement,” Alex inquires.
“It would be life-threatening,” Dr. Wagner explains. “And this here?” holding a newspaper that has a headline that reads, Good Luck, Germany. Yes to Reunification, Alex says with an ironic tone, “Wouldn’t you call this exciting?”
Faking history to protect the one you love is not an easy feat but Alex does his best to keep his mother in the past and he becomes so good at it that he eventually refuses to say goodbye to the GDR for it only means one thing: Saying goodbye to his mother.
With the help of Denis (Lukas), a video editor, Alex fakes television news bulletins and is able to acquire video tapes of old television broadcasts that he plays for his mother. He collects old GDR memorabilia and no-longer-in-circulation food brands that he painstakingly fills with the contents of fresh products just to keep the hoax alive—talk about love and dedication.
Yann Tiersen’s original music provides the backdrop of Alex gripping narration that comes out as social commentary.
Daniel Brühl’s performance, as the loving son and the narrator, is brilliant and adds warmth to the movie’s ambiance. The narration effortlessly combines sarcasm and melodrama, which is why Becker’s movie is so much fun to watch.
The dialogue is witty and the edits are quite artistic; it gives the movie a smooth flow from the moment the collaged intro ends and the moment the end credits roll. Becker’s movie is a visual footnote to the history of the GDR through the eyes of a person, whose life was forever changed by the changes his country underwent.
If you are expecting a movie about Lenin then you are in for a disappointment as it is not about the fiery Russian revolutionary as much as it is about a German boy’s journey through life. This is a movie about the story of Alex, his mother, his sister Ariane (Simon) and their father Robert Kerner (Burghart Klaußner), who defected to West Germany and left them behind.
Amidst all the confusion and chaos we also watch how Alex falls in love with Lara (Khamatova), a gentle Russian exchange medicine student. Their storyline is worth the watch as it adds hope to the brighter day that Alex yearns for.
This 121-minute movie is a comedy as much as it is a tragedy delivered through solid performances by its cast on top of which is Brühl and Saß.
Thanks to its cinematography, compliments of Martin Kukula, Good Bye Lenin! captures the authentic feels of the 80s and 90s. I was amazed to find out that it was produced in 2003.
One would imagine that the movie ends the moment Alex’s trick is exposed but it doesn’t. No! I didn’t give away an important detail, as I merely alluded to a fact, and to further make it difficult for you, I am not going to tell you if it Alex’s trick was actually exposed by his unsuspecting mother or not.
Good Bye Lenin! might have an 80s and 90s feel to it but it never loses its timeless spirit that was so often captured on celluloid: man’s eternal rebellious spirit. It is a rebellion against loss, a rebellion against an entire regime and a rebellion to keep a loved one alive.
By the way there are two goodbyes in Good Bye Lenin and I will leave them for you to find…